The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 15: Identity/Oneness (Tādātmya)

By Vrindaranya dasi

Additional articles in this series

An aspect of the inherency/bestowal controversy is the nature of the relationship of the ātmā with the siddha-deha. In Nyāya-vaiśeṣika, the relation of the material body with its qualities (guṇa) is one of samavāya (inherency). However, in this system of philosophy, form (rūpa) only inheres in material objects. Thus, Vedāntins reject samavāya as the type of relation between the spiritual form and the ātmā. For example, Śrī Rāmānujācārya’s Viśiṣṭādvaita doctrine uses the term apṛtak-siddhi (the relation of inseparability) for the relation between God and his attributes. Gauḍīyas often denote attributes using the concept of śaktis and employ the term acintya-bhedābheda-tattva (inconceivable oneness and difference) to describe the relation between God and his śaktis. The spiritual body (siddha-deha), emotions, qualities, and so forth are all aspects of svarūpa-śakti.

In the last article, I discussed how the ātmā and the siddha-deha are nondifferent, having an identity relation. The technical term for this in Nyāya-vaiśeṣika is tādātmya. The primary meaning of tādātmya is the relationship of something with itself: “In tādātmya (identity), of course, the relation is non-different from the entity. But in tādātmya the entity relates itself to itself; it is not a relation between two entities.”1 

Although tādātmya is a relation of identity, it is not necessarily taken in the sense of absolute oneness, although this is the way that Advaita Vedāntins understand it. Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas understand tādātmya in terms of acintya-bhedābheda-tattva. Thus, we should not think that tādātmya means absolute nondifference: “According to common sense, identity means absolute sameness or equality. But when we say that A is identical with B, it does not mean absolute sameness as it conveys the idea that A is, in some respect, having common characteristics with B and yet it possesses a difference because of which it is called B.”2 For example, Rūpa Gosvāmī says that Goloka and Gokula are in a relation of tādātmya.3 Similarly, in Vṛndāvana Mahimāmṛta 2.35, Prabodhānanda Sarasvatī says that Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa are in a relation of tādātmya. In his commentary to Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 2.5.112–114, Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī says that Kṛṣṇa is tādātmaka (identical) with the hlādinī-śakti because the Lord, the origin of the śakti, and his śakti are considered one. In other words, śakti has a tādātmya relationship with the source of the śakti. The form of the devotee is also tādātmaka with the Lord:

Paramānanda here refers to the hlādinī-śakti. Rati is nondifferent (tādātmya) from it because its root is hlādinī-śakti. The form of Kṛṣṇa is the vibhāva. This form is nondifferent (tādātmya) from the hlādinī-śakti because the Lord, origin of the śakti, and His śakti are considered one. The form of the devotee (the āśraya element of vibhāva) is filled with rati (whose root is the hlādinī-śakti) and is therefore nondifferent (tādātmya) from it.4

Thus, in the same way that Kṛṣṇa is nondifferent from his body, similarly the liberated jīvātmā is nondifferent from his or her body, which consists of svarūpa-sakti. It is not that Kṛṣṇa has a soul and a body. The two, Kṛṣṇa and his spiritual body, are interpenetrating realities. As the Caitanya-caritāmṛta states, “At no time is there a distinction between the body and the soul of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His personal identity and His body are made of blissful spiritual energy. There is no distinction between them.”5 The same truth holds true for the devotee and his or her spiritual body.

One might ask why the jīva cannot manifest his inherent śakti himself. In other words, if his śakti is inherent, why does it need to be bestowed? The answer, of course, is because of the inconceivable power of māyā: “The extrinsic potency of Bhagavān acts contrary to logic [i.e., her behavior cannot be understood simply through logic]; otherwise, how is it possible that the living entity, who is the ruler of [i.e., superior to] prakṛti, being conscious and liberated, becomes bound and miserable? (SB 3.7.9)”6 The soul becomes identified with material nature and thereby is unaware of his true nature. Paramātma Sandarbha 24 describes this process: “By association with māyā, represented by a woman, the jīva loses all his powers, his capacity for inherent knowledge etc. and follows her.”7 Of course, the powers are not really lost. As Jīva Gosvāmī explains in Paramātma Sandarbha 33, “If the jīva did not have these qualities inherent in his svarūpa, there would be no tendency to manifest them.”8 Therefore, the śakti that manifests in the liberated jīva has eternally been with the jīva. He also mentions in this anuccheda that by meditation on the Lord, śakti manifests by the mercy of the Lord, like the power of medicine.9 Although jñāna-śakti manifests by the mercy of the Lord, Jīva Gosvāmī, quoting Vedānta-sūtra 2.3.29, insists, “You cannot say that the jīva’s knowledge is not eternal, because it exists during deep sleep and simply manifests on waking. It is like maleness which is unmanifest in a child but appears when he grows up.”10

It is interesting to note that there can apparently be a tādātmya relation between something material (the body, mind, and words) and spiritual (svarūpa-śakti). Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu-bindu states: 

But due to the causeless mercy of the ocean of mercy Śrī Kṛṣṇa or the parama-bhagavad-bhaktas, the function of svarūpa-śakti obtains identification with (tādātmya) and manifests in the body, mind, and words (even though they are material) of the devotees who have taken shelter of the lotus feet of śrī gurudeva.… When fire permeates an iron rod it burns other objects. The iron rod does not burn other objects. In this example the fire is said to have obtained oneness with the iron rod (tādātmya). Similarly, by the mercy of the Lord, the bhakti-vṛtti of svarūpa-śakti obtains tādātmya with the body, mind, and words of the devotees and then acts through them.11

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, tādātmya is a relation of something with itself. Fire and an iron rod are two things, so someone might object to the analogy. However, this analogy is sometimes used by our Gauḍīya ācāryas when the svarūpa-śakti suffuses a devotee’s material body and mind, transforming it into a sādhaka-deha. The sādhaka-deha of a devotee who is not fully pure is partly influenced by the svarūpa-śakti and partly by the māyā-śakti. As I discussed in the tenth article of this series, when the jīva’s action is influenced by the svarūpa-śakti, he is considered a doer himself. When the jīva’s action is influenced by the māyā-śakti, he is only indirectly considered a doer (because the soul is not tādātmaka with the material body). Thus, a careful examination reveals that the tādātmya relation is actually between the svarūpa-śakti and the manifesting spiritual body, not between the svarūpa-śakti and the material body.

To explain the situation of the sādhaka-deha being partly spiritual and partly material, the sādhaka-deha is sometimes compared to a gold-plated box (the gold plating covering the material body). As the devotee turns increasingly toward God, the sādhaka-deha becomes spiritualized. When the devotee is fully pure, the sādhaka-deha is fully spiritual. The sādhaka purifies his or her heart by the process of chanting, and spiritual emotion gradually manifests: nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema ‘sādhya’ kabhu naya, śravaṇādi-śuddha-citte karaye udaya.12 Accordingly, Caitanya-caritāmṛta quotes Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu as saying, “The body of a devotee is never material. It is considered to be transcendental, full of spiritual bliss.”13

The perfected sādhaka-deha is already the vessel of bhāva, and as much as the siddha-deha corresponds with the devotee’s bhāva, it can be said that the siddha-deha is already partially manifest in the sādhaka-deha. Sādhana-bhakti is the means by which bhāva manifests (prākaṭya) in the heart.14 One’s bhāva corresponds with one’s siddha-deha. In fact, the siddha-deha is called a bhāva-deha. It is possible that this bhāva-deha will take more than one form. For example, a devotee might have a form in Kṛṣṇa līlā and another in Gaura līlā

Nonetheless, a devotee will generally leave the sādhaka-deha behind when he or she enters the spiritual world. However, underscoring the point that the sādhaka-deha can become fully spiritual, sometimes we find examples of a devotee going to the spiritual world in his or her sādhaka-deha. Gopa Kumāra is a case in point:

Gopa-kumāra saw his own body change from a product of the material elements into a transcendental body. To achieve this perfection, he was not forced to die, to give up one body in exchange for another. Rather, his body became refined so that he was able to travel through the coverings of the universe and enter the abode of liberation.15

Dhruva Mahārāja is another example: “Sometimes the material body itself becomes a spiritual body by the inconceivable śakti of the Lord as in the case of Dhruva (Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 4.12.29).”16 We also find some examples of svarūpa-śakti apparently taking the form of māyā-śakti; for example, when Sītā was kidnapped by Rāvaṇa, her spiritual form was replaced with a form of māyā. In such instances, however, it is understood that the original form of svarūpa-śakti becomes unmanifest, not that it transmutes into māyā-śakti.

These concepts are somewhat abstract and hard to conceptualize. Therefore, in the next chapter, we will explore in more depth how the sādhaka-deha is gradually fully spiritualized. This process is detailed in a beautiful excerpt from Swāmī B. V. Tripurāri’s upcoming book, Circle of Friends.17

Additional articles in this series: Part 1: The History of a Debate, Part 2: A Road Map, Part 3: The Swan, Part 4: Vaiṣṇava Vedānta, Part 5: The Twenty-One Intrinsic Characteristics of the Jīva, Part 6: The Search for Bliss, Part 7: The Soul is a Servant of Bhagavān Hari, Part 8: A Servant of God (Śeṣatva), Part 9: Unmanifest Qualities of the Soul, Part 10: Intrinsically of the Nature of Knowledge and Bliss, Part 11: Jīva Gosvāmī on Taṭasthā-Śakti, Part 12: Understanding Śakti, Part 13: The Bliss of the Jīva, Part 14: The Soul Is Not Subject to Transformation, Part 15: Identity/Oneness (Tādātmya), Part 16: The Manifestation of Śakti, Part 17: Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa’s Govinda-Bhāṣya, Part 18: Concluding Words.

  1. Sarita Gupta, “Svarūpa-Sambandha—A Peculiar Relation of Navya-Nyāya,” Indian Philosophical Quarterly 8, no. 2 (January 1981) 250. []
  2. Dr. Sarita Gupta. Problem of Relations in Indian Philosophy (Delhi, India: Eastern Book Linkers, 1984), 77. []
  3. Laghu-bhāgavatāmṛta 5.498. Quoted in Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. Sri Brahma-samhita: Fifth Chapter. Gaudiya Vedanta Publications. Kindle Edition. []
  4. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Śrīla Rūpa. Bhakti Rasāmṛta Sindhu: Volume One. Kindle Edition. []
  5. īśvarera nāhi kabhu deha-dehi-bheda, svarūpa, deha, — cid-ānanda, nāhika vibheda (Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.5.122) []
  6. Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Tattva Sandarbha: Vaiṣṇava Epistemology and Ontology (Ṣaṭ Sandarbha Book 1) (p. 285). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition. []
  7. Translation by Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātma Sandarbha. []
  8. Paramātmā Sandarbha 33, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātmā Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 3). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  9. Paramātmā Sandarbha 33, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātmā Sandarbha. []
  10. Paramātmā Sandarbha 33, commentary. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Paramātmā Sandarbha. []
  11. Sri Srimad Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja; Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura. Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu-bindu: A Drop of the Nectarean Ocean of Devotional Mellows. Gaudiya Vedanta Publications. Kindle Edition. []
  12. Caitanya-caritāmṛta 2.22.107 []
  13. Caitanya-caritāmṛta 3.4.191 []
  14. Bhaktirasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.2 []
  15. See Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta 2.3.9, commentary. Dasa, Gopiparanadhana. Sri Brhad-bhagavatamrta: Volume Two. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Kindle Edition. []
  16. Quoted Prīti Sandarbha 3. Swami, HH Bhanu; Gosvāmī, Jīva. Prīti Sandarbha: With commentary of Jīva Gosvāmī (Ṣaṭ-sandarbha Book 6). Tattva Cintāmaṇi Publishing. Kindle Edition. []
  17. The expected release date is late 2022. []

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4 Responses to The Simultaneous Inherency and Bestowal of Bhakti—Part 15: Identity/Oneness (Tādātmya)

  1. Mātājī,

    Is the relation between the ātmā and the spiritual body is that of Acintya Bhedābheda?

    • Dear Ojas,

      The relation is tādātmya, in which the relation is nondifferent than the entity. However, the point I was making in the article is that Gauḍīyas don’t understand tādātmya in the same way as Advaita Vedāntins. There is apparent difference in the spiritual world to facilitate līlā.

      “When the Nondual Absolute is conceived as unqualified and devoid of potency, It is known as Brahman. When the same Nondual Absolute is conceived as inherently self-endowed with all potency, It is known as Bhagavān. The ontological entity is one and the same, yet, a higher order, or, in other words, transrational, logic is required to understand how distinction (bheda) can be possible without violating the basic nature of nonduality (abheda). This is worked out in detail in the Bhāgavata and the Ṣaṭ Sandarbha. In short, the inherent nature of the Nondual Absolute cannot be other than nondual. And it is the inherent nature or intrinsic potency of the Nondual Absolute that discloses its interiority, that discloses its variegated display of transcendent being, awareness, and bliss.” [Dasa, Satyanarayana. Śrī Tattva Sandarbha: Vaiṣṇava Epistemology and Ontology (Ṣaṭ Sandarbha Book 1) (p. 549). Jiva Institute of Vaishnava Studies. Kindle Edition]

      In service,

      • So, the ātmā is Both Formless & Possesses a Form at the same instant? Like the dual nature of light.

        • I guess you could say that, in so far as the soul is a particle of sac-cid-ananda with inherent śakti and the soul’s spiritual form exists even if it is unmanifest. When the form is manifest, then the particle of sac-cid-ananda still exists—or you could say that the soul is formless in the sense of not having a material form.

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